USDC C.D. California, November 26, 2008

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The district court granted the defendant movie studio’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s copyright infringement claims for failure to state a claim because the defendant is a co-owner of the copyright.

The plaintiff wrote a musical play in Hebrew called The Apple, and he subsequently assigned his rights to Golan Globus Productions who intended to produce an English language motion picture based on the play. Specifically, the plaintiff sold and transferred “all the copyrights of any type and kind to the musical including but not limited to the publishing rights to the musical . . . for the purpose of producing plays and/or records and/or movies and/or production on any type of media in accordance with the foregoing musical.”

In 1979, the plaintiff, along with his ex-wife, George Clinton, and Cannon Films, obtained a copyright registration for the words and music of the motion picture score for the English language motion picture. MGM, as successor in interest to Cannon, recently released The Apple on DVD.

The plaintiff alleged that he and his ex-wife along with Clinton are the sole owners of the copyright in the words and music of the motion picture score for The Apple motion picture. However, the plaintiff also alleged that Clinton was hired by Cannon as an employee to help Americanize the plaintiff’s English.

The court held that since Clinton was an employee of Cannon and his contribution was a work made for hire, then Cannon was an author and co-owner of the work for purposes of copyright law, and MGM acquired those rights as successor in interest to Cannon. The court dismissed plaintiff’s claim because a copyright owner cannot sue a co-owner for infringement.